Federal authorities charge Tulsa father in hot car deaths case

Tulsa prosecutors found the children were tied to Cherokee Nation

Charges dropped against Tulsa father after Supreme Court ruling

TULSA, Okla. — Update 07/15/2020:

A Tulsa man has been charged with child neglect after he allegedly left his two children unsupervised for more than four hours, at which time the children gained access to his parked vehicle where they were later found deceased.

“Following the Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt, the Tulsa County District Attorney dismissed state charges against Dustin Dennis for lack of jurisdiction. District Attorney Kunzweiler communicated to my office his intent to do so, and we immediately prepared to receive and review the case file,” said U.S. Attorney Trent Shores. “Upon review of the facts and evidence by the FBI and federal prosecutors, we filed a Complaint alleging felony child neglect by Mr. Dennis. Our review of the facts and evidence is ongoing, and we will determine whether other violations of federal law should be presented to a federal grand jury for their consideration. This is a tragic set of facts. Our mission now is to pursue justice for the two child victims by holding Mr. Dennis accountable in a court of law. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has a team of Victim Coordinators who will work with the mother of the deceased children as this case proceeds through the federal system.”

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A Criminal Complaint is a temporary charge alleging a violation of law. For the case to proceed to trial, the United States must present the charge to a federal Grand Jury within 30 days. Once a Grand Jury returns an Indictment, a defendant has a right to a jury trial at which the United States would have the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The FBI and Tulsa Police Department are the investigative agencies.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shannon Cozzoni is prosecuting the case.

He’s in custody and will have a preliminary and detention hearing on Friday to decide if he will remain in custody or released on bond.

Original story 07/13/2020:

The prosecution of a Tulsa father in connection to the death of his young children will be passed to federal authorities -- one of a handful of cases that could change as local authorities adjust to the recent change in tribal law enforcement.

“This morning my office determined that the mother of the children is a member of the Cherokee Nation,” Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said Monday.

“We also determined that the oldest child had a tribal membership card. The youngest child was in the process of acquiring a tribal membership card,” Kunzweiler said.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that much of eastern Oklahoma, including Tulsa, is still considered tribal land.

Therefore, tribal cases like the one against Dustin Dennis will be turned over to federal prosecutors.

“Based upon the US Supreme Court decision in McGirt, it is clear that jurisdiction lies with the Federal Government. We dismissed our prosecution and referred the matter to the United States Attorney’s Office. “My concerns are with the mother of these children. I cannot imagine how difficult this must be for her. We were confident in the facts of this case, and were prepared to move forward. Now, she has to pursue justice on behalf of her children essentially from the start again. This will be a reality for Eastern Oklahoma prosecutors, courts, and law enforcement for the foreseeable future until all cases with tribal membership issues can be identified.”
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler
Dustin Lee Dennis, 31, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder after his children, who were both under the age of five, were pronounced dead at his home, according to an arrest report.
Dustin Lee Dennis, 31, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder after his children, who were both under the age of five, were pronounced dead at his home, according to an arrest report.

Dennis had initially been arrested in June in connection to the death of his children, Teagan and Ryan, ages 4 and 3.

The children died after being found in his hot truck near 61st and Lewis.